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Weyburn arts community is part of the ‘Degenhart Effect’

Many friends, family and former students of Eltje Degenhart attended the opening reception of “The Degenhart Effect” exhibition at the Weyburn Art Gallery on Thursday evening.

WEYBURN – Seeing the works of the late Eltje Degenhart in homes, offices and galleries is “like seeing an old friend,” Marguerite Degenhart told a large crowd gathered for the opening reception of “The Degenhart Effect” exhibition at the Weyburn Art Gallery on Thursday evening.

The gallery was filled with friends, family and former students of the art teacher and artist for the reception, with many of his works in the exhibition from private collections and the City of Weyburn Permanent Collection.

Curator Regan Lanning, a former student of Degenhart, remarked that the fact many of the works were sourced from friends and family, and was curated by a former student, is part of the “Degenhart Effect” on a very healthy and thriving arts community in Weyburn.

She noted only four of the pieces are from the City’s Permanent Collection, two of them donated by the late Alex Miles, and all the rest came from people in the community who loaned them for this exhibit. They included the Craigens, Linnells, Bangsunds and Lynn Kot, plus Marguerite loaned examples of his later works created before he passed away in May of 2015.

In her comments at the reception, Marguerite said she had forgotten about some of the paintings on display, as there had been so many that came through their home and studio over the years.

“When I go into a home or office and see his art, it’s like seeing an old friend,” she said. “I really want to thank Regan and the art gallery for putting on this exhibition.”

She noted that Eltje’s first medium was in silk screening, and he had a pat lecture to explain to people the difference between silk screening and reproductions, which his family had heard enough times that they could all recite it.

He taught art education at the Weyburn Comprehensive School for 27 years, and after retiring, he did painting full-time. In addition to teaching, he co-owned Gallery 307 with Ray Hamm downtown. Marguerite joked that it was more fun for them than it was a money-maker.

In her remarks, Lanning shared a story as an art student, noting that Degenhart was very reluctant to give out 10s as a mark. For one assignment, the students were to produce a work that would be found in an art gallery’s gift shop.

She reproduced a Van Gogh painting on a T-shirt, and presented it to Degenhart, who gave her 9.5. She then added a box, with a clay sculpture of an ear, and after exhaling, Degenhart awarded her a 10 for the assignment.

Explaining further what the “Degenhart Effect” was in Weyburn, she told what her experience has been as an arts curator for the past eight and a half years.

“When I became a curator, I often heard from other arts professional working in the southeast the struggles of working in a rural community. I kept waiting to run up against these same struggles, but I just didn’t find them here,” she said, noting that art classes always fill up, the annual James Weir competition has over 30 artists entered every year, the thriving Gifted Art Markets that are held twice a year, and pointed out that receptions are usually well-attended, referencing the over 50 people in attendance for this one.

“What makes Weyburn different? What I keep coming back to is the quality of arts education that we had in Weyburn,” she said, noting that as a curator she regularly benefits from high quality art work produced in this city and area.

Degenhart taught art for nearly 30 years at the Comp, and he helped greatly to demystify the arts for students, and the result is, people from all walks of life are willing to take part in arts projects and programs put on by the Weyburn Arts Council and gallery.

“His work helped to promote the local arts ecosystem, broadening our draw and extending our reach. The arts in Weyburn is thriving, and Eltje played a huge role in that,” said Lanning.